Today is a day of visits to relatives and friends so we make sure we have some time to relax before the running around begins. Instead of heading to the centre, round Aristotelous Square (named after Aristotle who came from Halkidiki just down the road from here), we decide to go for coffee at the port. On the way we passed jewels of turn of the century architecture amongst the less delightful blocks of flats.
Once Thessaloniki was full of such beautiful buildings but a huge fire in 1917 destroyed about two thirds of the centre of the city.
Along the seafront there are a few 'Belle Epoque' buildings and deco masterpieces can also be found. Stroll around the centre of the city and you will stumble across wonderful old buildings wedged between the ubiquitous flats. What you will also find are remains of the Byzantine city walls as well as Roman ruins, such as the Arch of Galereus and the Emperor Galereus' Palace. It is an ever fascinating place to walk around for those interested in history but here there is something for everyone, great shopping, sightseeing, cultural events and much, much more.
The port has been redeveloped as a cultural hub with several museums near the wonderful Passenger Terminal building. Although still functioning as a commercial port, Thessaloniki no longer has the same amount of maritime traffic as it once did. There are still ferries operating but nothing like from Piraeus and mainly in the summer to the Sporades islands for example. Cruise ships put in at Thessaloniki but again, not in large numbers. So Thessaloniki made a smart move by regenerating the area and capitalising on the fabulous views you get of the city from the port area.
To the left of the magnificent Passenger Terminal building and facing the sea is the Kitchen Bar, our destination for coffee and later a spot of lunch. We sat outside watching the pleasure boats on their harbour tours and the huge container ships at anchor. The weather was sunny with a few clouds to make it interesting. To our left the whole of Thessaloniki and close by Aristotelous Square. My frappe (iced coffee) tasted delicious looking at that great view. Basking in the sun in great surroundings is what holidays are all about.
We enjoyed a spot of lunch at Kitchen Bar, American style diner with a Greek twist. Food is plentiful and tasty. Knowing how large the portions are we only ordered one ma in course and a salad and were totally full. The pork souvlaki was succulent and the salad unusual, including baby figs, Cretan hard cheese and beetroot leaves, as well as spinach and cranberries. Bizarre combination I hear you cry, but it worked.
Tearing ourselves away from the view we whizzed back to the apartment for a quick change. Next stop Panorama, upmarket hilltop suburb of Thessaloniki. Here we visited relatives and were pressed to eat some 'spanakopita' and 'tiropita' (spinach and cheese pies respectively) made by the mother in law in Crete. Despite being pretty full from lunch the pies were so appetising that of course they had to be tried. To go with our coffee we also had to try some 'glyko', home made fruit in syrup, also known as 'spoon sweet'. In this case we were treated to strawberry glyko, a bit sweet for me but yummy nevertheless.
Last stop in our packed programme was with another friend who we had arranged to meet near Parorama in another picturesque village on the heights. Our destination was Zografou, a cute cafe bar which offers a great range of herbal tea, particularly Krocus Kozanis, made with saffron. Of course they also serve wines, beers and snacks. I stuck with a lager and this time chose an Alfa, which is not at all bitter and very easy drinking.
We had a pleasant time catching up with news of friends, work, etc, and said our goodbyes fairly early as our friend had to get up early next morning. Frankly we were pretty relieved as we were whacked! Mind you before we left, in true Greek tradition, our friend gave us a huge box of cakes as a gift. The patisserie box was full of the local speciality of 'Panorama trigono', filo pastry triangles with syrup and custard. My diet is suffering but it is all too good not to eat!
The way home was a bit exciting as we went the wrong way up the road and ended up winding down the big hill on some windy single track roads - terrifying in the dark. But the view of the city lights as we returned to civilisation was amazing. And so to bed...
Feeling a little more refreshed we got up and made breakfast. Barley rusks with olive oil and tomatoes called dakos (something we learned in Crete), olives, boiled egg, soft cheese and fresh bread. Did I mention the cucumber and lashings of olive oil? So delicious and certainly beats a bowl of cereal.
I was still so tired from the early morning and flight delay that I declined to accompany Peri into the city centre. He had business to take care of so the thought of sitting in government offices for the morning didn’t fill me with get up and go. On his return we set off for a late lunch along the seafront in Nea Krini (part of Kalamaria). We wanted something more traditional than yesterday so headed for an ‘estiatorio’, an eatery in between a taverna and a classy restaurant. After driving down the strip and then back up we decided on Okeanis. They have a menu which changes from day to day.
The food was certainly plentiful and it was excellent Greek staples such as ‘kokkinisto’ (beef stew with tomatoes - kokkino means red) and 'bakalaria me skordalia' (cod with garlic sauce). We were not hungry enough for starters as we know of old how huge the Greek portions are! Instead we settled for a main course each and a salad. This time we chose the ‘horta’ which is wild greens, a bit like spinach but with a more bitter flavour. We added plenty of lemon juice and olive oil and started on it whilst we waited for our main courses.
The kokkinisto came with oven baked courgettes - delicious - and so filling I only added the ubiquitous bread rather than ordering some kind of potatoes as well. The cod was battered and was really light and the cod succulent, with the accompanying skordalia piquant with raw garlic. Good job we both had some!! And what did we drink with this feast? Retsina from one of the oldest and best procurers in Greece, Malamatina. Crisp, cold and supremely refreshing on a hot day. It is the perfect choice for lunch. To finish the meal what better than fruit and ice cream as a gift from the restaurant?
Back to our apartment to get changed and then our with friends to a bar at the marina, Erotikos. No, it is not a girlie bar as the Greek word ‘erota’ is only concerned with romance. The bar is cool, music not too loud so you can chat, and there is a good selection of Greek and international beer. I chose the Fix, one of the oldest breweries in Greece. Brewed in Athens, this lager is light and yeasty with great flavour and no real bitterness. Refreshing and morish, I managed to drink all of a large bottle on my own - usually unheard of! It was great to catch up with old friends, especially in lovely surroundings.
As usual Thessaloniki provides great cafe and restaurant culture and I’m loving it. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings in this exciting city.
After not one but 3 different delays which kept us on the tarmac at London Gatwick for over an hour longer than expected, we finally took off for Thessaloniki. Don’t you love computer systems?! At least we were on the very early flight so still arrived in Greece for lunchtime.
Having hired a car we stepped out of the air conditioned airport into the wonderful hot sun. This is the perfect time to visit as the blazing heat of the summer has mellowed but you are still guaranteed uninterrupted sunshine and temperatures of approx 24oC.
We’re staying in the leafy suburb of Kalamaria within walking distance of the sea. To blow away the cobwebs we went for a walk around the area. Of course we headed for the beach! My husband remembers swimming there as a boy but tells me that nobody does so now. But we can see some of the huge Bay of Thermaikos which Thessaloniki stands on and we found a picturesque spot. It just so happens that, past the quaint little fisherman’s church, is one of the city’s best clubs, Remvi, which is also a trendy bar and restaurant.
Of course we were starving by this point so took a table in the restaurant which boasts a fabulous view.
The food at Remvi is modern but uses some unusual local produce. There is nothing of the traditional taverna about the menu but instead some Greek mainstays like meatballs, have been reinvented as chicken meatballs with the taste of wonderful fresh herbs and served with game chips. I had the grilled octopus which was soft and delicious. The salad we chose to go with our meal was ‘herbs from Ammouliani’. Ammouliani is a small island off the coast of Halkidiki, about a 2 hour drive from Thessaloniki. Neither of us knew what would turn up but the huge salad was of a cooked vegetable which we had never eaten before. It was a little like samphire but tasted quite different. It was almost bitter but not unpleasantly so and I could not compare the flavour to anything else. Dressing the greens were crushed tomatoes, a soft cheese which resembled cottage cheese but tasted a whole lot better, and a vinaigrette. Interesting and tasty. It was too hot for wine so we shared a large bottle of Fix beer. Deliciously refreshing.
We declined the dessert as we were full but we stopped at a local patisserie for cakes for later. Thessaloniki is the city of patisseries. Almost every corner has one. They generally serve homemade ice cream as well as cakes (works of art!) and the fabulous chocolates. We swung by the supermarket and stocked up as we decided to go self-catering this time.
And so to bed! Exhausted after the long day of travel, the hot sun and the walking. I wonder what delights tomorrow will bring…
Only a week to go until our great Greek odyssey! We really can't wait. We'll be starting out in Thessaloniki, land of Alexander the Great, then swinging by beautiful Halkidiki.
Next is a visit to cosmopolitan Athens. Our last port of call will be Kalamata in the Peleponnese. Of course we will have to visit Sparta whilst we are there as well as many places on our route from north to south, east to west.
Follow our food experiences through olive groves, vineyards, hotels and tavernas. We'll be sampling gourmet produce, checking out 5* hotels, visiting historic sites and trying the best local restaurants. Exciting or what?!
Join us from 19th September for our road trip blog.